When the late Swiss businessman Markus Leibherr bought Southampton in 2009, it seemed like an investment that was fuelled by passion rather than business acumen. After all, having spent 98 days in administration (the equivalent of footballing bankruptcy), the footballing factory of England was only heading downwards with points deductions as well downsizing due to have an adverse effect.
The club has since made phenomenal progress moving from League One to the top half of the famed Premier League. In football, where many big clubs often draw disdain on the lack of business acumen, the Saints have managed to garner a profit in excess of 33 million for the previous year (while the very first thought that might occur is these are profits generated from the sale of players in summer, I would like to bring that most football club holding companies account for player trading as an extra-ordinary item and hence these profits are bereft of any player trading gain/loss).
Currently sitting in 6th place, Southampton are still contention for European Qualification, though Europa League qualification looks more promising than qualifying for Champions League. Either way, an entry to a continental championship on a frequent basis would help Southampton establish themselves among the bigger clubs in England. While the world might look down upon the Europa League as a distant and often ill-treated cousin of UCL, it cannot be ignored as a major step up to establishing oneself on a sustainable basis.
A club like Southampton have a rich heritage to look back upon. Regardless of that, in today’s footballing scenario, a club must either provide quality playing time or financial benefits to lure players away from their existing employers. The existence of European Football in Southampton’s annual calendar will not merely remain as the club’s obligation to the governing body in Europe. It will serve as a reminder of the club’s growth as well the view of its lofty aspirations to set up a sustainable footballing model. It will add to Southampton’s muscle in attracting quality footballers from within and abroad as they will be served additional quality playing time to enhance their career, apart from getting to be a part of one of the biggest comebacks in the footballing echelon.
Despite selling some of their top brass from last season, the club has made some smart buys apart from grooming the youngsters they bought so shrewdly over the past 3 seasons. An entry into European competition would mean having a larger roster of quality players and it would essentially help Southampton break into the vicious cycle of football and money without having to be taken over by a business giant.
While Europa League lags behind in the money allocation amongst participating teams in the Champions League, it certainly carries financial benefits that could come in handy with the arrival and enforcement of the Financial Fair Play regulations. Reports estimate that a good run in the competition could land a club extra revenue in the range of £15 to 20 million, which might seem like a small amount especially against the ballooning transfer fee prices. Nevertheless, £20 million would automatically account for revenue increase in excess of 20% for the club since the latest results of the club show a turnover of £106 million.
While these would be the direct benefits of qualifying for the European competitions, the club will also be subjected to a significant increase in its revenues through deals off the field. For example, the club currently doesn’t have any kit sponsor and that would be an area that many of the world’s elite sportswear companies will be looking to capture that opportunity. The same applies with companies that might want to associate themselves with the resurgent Saints through promotions and tie-ups.
With the management of the club now in the hands of Katherine Liebherr, Southampton are on a march forward. The Swiss has shown business acumen accompanied by informed decision making to gain praise from Southampton and football fans alike. If the club does qualify for Europe, though “only Europa League”, she will be taking the unconventional way to growth and proving the doubters wrong.